Survey Update Reveals Downturn

24 Feb, 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly economic news and how to deal with it.

In the last issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I mentioned that I would conduct an update to the CAD Manager's Survey I'd published last fall. The reason I wanted to do this updated survey was that I've received a lot of email from readers asking about job security and economic conditions.

In this issue, I'll reveal the data and draw some conclusions from it. I'll also pass along some recommendations based on my experience in dealing with recessions.

The Responses
The survey was conducted from February 12 to February 21, 2009, via the Internet with a small selection of questions. Here are the issues I'll focus on in this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter:

  • How busy is your company?
  • Has your company had layoffs?
  • Are you salaried or hourly?
  • Has your pay been frozen or cut?
  • Are you still purchasing new hardware?
  • Are you still purchasing new software?
  • Has your training budget been cut?

When I downloaded the data and started sifting through the results, I was amazed at the volume of responses (320) and the geographic spread of the sampling. The survey reached all over North America (U.S. at 79%, Canada at 5%, and a few from Mexico), Europe and the United Kingdom (3% and 8%, respectively), Australia (4%), and 1% from India and Asian rim countries.

The sampling is wide enough to suggest that a good measure of the North American, European, and Australian economies can be conferred. Please be aware that I'm not a professional pollster, just an author trying to pass along information to his readers. I hope you find the information valuable.

Results: Compensation
Time for the bad news. The survey indicates that things are mostly bad everywhere. There was no indication that any country was better off than another based on the survey data.

From the survey responses, the salaried and hourly CAD managers were as follows:

  • 62% salaried
  • 38% hourly

Of salaried responders, 21% have had their salaries reduced and another 21% have had their salaries frozen. Taken together, this means that 42% of salaried CAD managers have received negative news about their compensation during the six months since the last CAD manager survey was published.

Hourly CAD managers have it worse than their salaried brethren. Of hourly responders, 33% have had their pay rate reduced, and 28% have had it frozen, meaning 59% have received negative compensation news.

Results: Layoffs and Project Load
To gauge how busy our companies are, I used the good old fashioned "gut feel" method of measurement. I simply asked CAD managers to gauge their current project load by choosing from a list of scenarios. The measured responses are listed here:

  • 3% - None (no work)
  • 31% - Not very busy
  • 40% - Mostly busy
  • 26% - Very busy

I also asked whether the CAD manager's company had had layoffs recently. Here are the results:

  • 60% - Yes
  • 40% - No

Now the news here isn't as bad as it was for compensation, but this news isn't good either. Based on these responses, 34% of companies out there have little to no project work. It doesn't take a degree in economics to understand that these companies will be laying off more workers soon if things don't get better. The 40% of companies that are "mostly busy" may not lay any more workers, but they won't be expanding either. The 26% of CAD managers working in "very busy" companies have found a calm port in an economic storm and should feel very good about their current situation.

The percentage of firms conducting layoffs is ominous. To give you a point of contrast, I spoke at almost 40 CAD manager group events during 2006, where I asked 1200 CAD managers if their companies were laying off. I counted 8 hands that year — less than 1%.

Results: Hardware and Software Purchasing
Experience has demonstrated to me that when money gets tight, companies start to cut back on hardware and software budgets. To see if this is the case in the current economy, I simply asked CAD managers to answer a basic question about each with yes and no responses. Here are the results:

Are you still purchasing new hardware?

  • 41% - Yes
  • 59% - No

Are you still purchasing new software?

  • 43% - Yes
  • 57% - No

A very interesting correlation to note is that nearly 60% of responses indicate no more hardware or software being purchased — the exact same percentage that reports having layoffs. It looks like it will be a rough year for computer makers and software producers as well as CAD managers.

Results: Training
Another thing experience has taught me is that training budgets typically get slashed during tough times. To measure this effect I asked another simple yes or no question. Here are the results:

Has your training budget been cut?

  • 47% - Yes
  • 53% - No

What I find interesting here is that those companies cutting training are actually less than those conducting layoffs (47% versus 60%). Could this actually mean that companies are starting to understand that having a well trained and knowledgeable workforce is something that helps them compete? I honestly don't know if the results here indicate a move toward more commitment to training, but I sure hope so because that would be the only positive news coming from the survey data.

So what sort of recommendations can be drawn from the bleak survey update? Here's some pragmatic advice that has helped me during past recessions that I think will work well today.

Do what it takes to keep your job! Be ready to jump back into production work, volunteer to take on responsibilities that may be open due to layoffs, heck, offer to mop the floors if it'll help. The bottom line is that those willing to help are those who stay employed.

Learn, don't just earn! Have you fallen into a rut and stopped learning about new technologies or software? Has it been so long since you looked for a job that you don't know what skills are in demand? If you find yourself answering yes to either of these questions, it is time to jolt yourself into learning mode just in case you should find yourself unemployed. Consider taking a programming course at a community college, search CAD blogs and read up on everything you can, search the want ads to see what jobs are open to gauge market demand. By learning more and doing your market research you're more likely to stay employed, better postured to find a job if laid off, and much better positioned to thrive in the economy once things turn around.

Adjust your attitude if necessary. Do you have a combative working style or butt heads with others often? Has the current situation at your company made you abrupt or resentful? If so, you should do all you can to become more cooperative and focus on problem solving. In a tight economy everyone is under stress, and it is easy to let your emotions get the best of you, but when layoffs do happen, those with the worst attitudes are often the first to go. Do what it takes to be positive and helpful to those around you, and you'll have more fun at work while making your position more secure.

Summing Up
Sorry that the CAD Manager Survey Update provided such down news. But it is better to understand the environment we operate in and deal with it than to be paralyzed by fear. If you have any questions or suggestions please contact me via my web site at

In the next few editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll renew my examination of the new Autodesk CAD products from the CAD manager's perspective and give you some cost-effective resources to accelerate your learning curve. I'll also answer any questions you might have regarding the CAD Manager's Survey update in a special edition of the CAD Manager's Toolbox.

Until next time.